President Trump highlighted “American victims of illegal immigration” on Friday, hosting families of people killed by people who immigrated to the U.S. illegally to tell their stories and hitting back at critics of his rescinded policy that separated some children from their parents who crossed the border illegally.
“These are the American citizens permanently separated from their loved ones,” Mr. Trump said at the White House. “These are the families the media ignores. These are the stories that Democrats and people that are weak on immigration don’t want to discuss.”
He was surrounded on a stage by so-called “Angel” families who lost loved ones to violence by immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally. Many of the parents held large photographs of their dead children.
Referring to the furor over separating children from their parents at the border, in all but a few cases temporarily for investigative purposes, Mr. Trump emphasized repeatedly that the families gathered with him had lost their loved ones forever.
“They’re not separated for a day, or two days,” Mr. Trump said. “They’re permanently separated, because they were killed by criminal illegal aliens.”
One of the parents, Steve Ronnebeck, talked about his 21-year-old son Grant, who was shot and killed for a pack of cigarettes at a convenience store.
“You don’t hear these stories, and some of our media won’t talk to you about it,” Mr. Ronnebeck said. “But this is permanent separation.”
He said he places a Christmas tree on his son’s grave each year.
Laura Wilkerson of Pearland, Texas, recounted the story of her son Josh, who was tortured and killed in 2010.
“None of our kids had a minute to say goodbye,” she said. “We weren’t lucky enough to be separated for five days, or 10 days. We’re separated permanently. We can never have them back on this Earth.”
She added, “We can’t speak to them, we can’t Skype with them,” referring to outrage over migrant children who have been separated from their parents being able to speak with them on the phone only twice a week.
Several family members urged the audience and Mr. Trump to support their grass-roots organization, Fight Sanctuary State, to encourage state and local authorities to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement agents instead of shielding illegal immigrants.
“If we don’t kill this in California, it will spread,” said Drew Rosenberg, who lost his son, of the sanctuary-city and -state movement. “It’s a death sentence for American law-abiding citizens.”
Sabine Durden, a legal immigrant from Germany, told the story of her Dominic, 30, who was killed in Moreno Valley, California, in 2012 when his motorbike was hit by an immigrant from Guatemala, who was living illegally in the U.S. and had prior convictions including two DUIs.
“It took me five years to become a citizen, a proud citizen,” she said. “And I didn’t drag my son … over borders, through deserts. I didn’t place him in harm’s way. I came here the right way.”
She said the man who killed her son had been deported once, but returned to the U.S. and enjoyed sanctuary in Riverside, California.
“The judge, the DA, they knew who he was,” she said. “They gave him probation after his second DUI. Five weeks later, he killed my child. The public needs to know, and they deserve to know, that this could happen to each one of you at any given second.”
After the death of her only child, Ms. Durden said she was going to kill herself, until Mr. Trump announced his candidacy for president in 2015.
“President Trump, coming down that escalator that day and talking about illegal immigration, stopped me in my track,” she said. “And I thank President Trump, Vice President [Mike Pence] … I thank everybody out here. Make sure you get our stories out.”
Showing the audience a locket, she said: “I brought my son. This is what I have left — his ashes. I wear his ashes in a locket. This is how I get to hug my son. So remember, when you go and hug your kids, that there are many of us, thousands of us, who don’t get to do that any more. Let’s work together and get this done — all politicians. I don’t care what side you’re on. You don’t want your child in a casket or in an urn.”
Mr. Trump said he invited the families to the White House “because the news media has overlooked their stories.”
“I want the American people to hear from them directly,” he said. “For years their pain was met with silence … but no more. Their loved ones have not died in vain. We will secure our borders. Eventually, the word will get out.”
Mr. Trump cited statistics of crime committed by immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally, including 600,000 criminal offenses committed by more than 250,000 migrants over the past seven years in Texas alone. He also noted that 15,000 Americans died of heroin overdoses in 2016, with 90 percent of heroin coming across the southern border.
The president also again criticized Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland, California, who alerted immigrants who crossed into the U.S. illegally to a federal raid earlier this year to thwart their capture. He mistakenly referred to her as the mayor of San Diego.
“What are they going to do about looking at her, by the way?” Mr. Trump said. “I’ve been asking this question for four weeks.”
Among the “Angel” family members invited by the White House were:
• Agnes Gibboney, who lost her son Ronald da Silva after he was shot and killed by a gang member, who crossed the border illegally.
• Juan Pina, who lost his 14-year-old daughter Christy Sue in 1990, allegedly at the hands of a Mexican national who raped and killed her. Her alleged killer was extradited from Mexico last month.
• Michelle Wilson-Root, whose 21-year old daughter Sarah was killed in 2016 following a vehicular accident allegedly caused by Edwin Mejia — who had entered the country illegally and, as a result of “catch-and-release” loopholes, was released into the U.S. interior as an unaccompanied minor. According to media reports, Mejia’s blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit.
• Sabine Durden, who lost her son Dominic, a sheriff’s dispatcher, following a fatal vehicular accident in Moreno Valley, California.
• Mary Ann Mendoza, who lost her son, Mesa Police Sgt. Brandon Mendoza, in 2014 following a vehicular accident with a migrant who was allegedly driving drunk at three times the legal limit.
• Billy and Kathy Inman, who lost their son 16-year-old Dustin in 2000 following a vehicular accident allegedly caused by an immigrant who entered the U.S. illegally. Mrs. Inman, who was also in the vehicle, was left permanently disabled because of her injuries.
• Don Rosenberg, whose 25-year-old son Drew Rosenberg died in 2010 following a vehicular accident allegedly caused by an individual who had entered the country illegally.
• Maureen Maloney, who lost her son 23-year-old son Matthew Denice following a vehicular accident in 2011 caused by a man who was driving drunk and had entered the U.S. illegally. The man who caused the accident was later sentenced to 12 years in prison.
• Maureen Laquerre, whose brother Richard Grossi died in 2009 following a vehicular accident allegedly caused by a previously deported migrant.
• Kimberly Roberts and Chris Stansberry, who lost their 18-year-old daughter Tierra, following a fire allegedly set by a migrant who entered the U.S. illegally.
• Ray Tranchant, who lost his daughter 16-year-old daughter Tessa in 2007 to a migrant who was driving drunk.